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Russia's finance minister resigns

Russia's influential finance minister has been forced from office following a televised confrontation with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr Medvedv had angrily demanded that Alexei Kudrin immediately explain his criticism of his policies or resign.

The open conflict within Russia's leadership follows the announcement over the weekend that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plans to return to the presidency next year and Mr Medvedev would then take his old job as prime minister.

Russia will have a presidential vote in March, but Mr Putin is sure to win.

The departure of Mr Kudrin is likely to unsettle investors and further shake Russia's markets.

A close Putin ally, he has been finance minister since 2000 and his tight hold over the budget has been seen as key to Russia's economic stability.

"It is difficult to see how Mr Kudrin's resignation can be anything but market-negative," said Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics Ltd in London.

"With oil prices starting to slide and financial markets still jittery, now is not a good time for the government to lose its arch fiscal hawk."

On Saturday, Mr Kudrin said he would refuse to serve in the government if Mr Medvedev was made prime minister because of policy disagreements he had with him, including plans to substantially boost military spending.

Addressing Mr Kudrin, Mr Medvedev called the minister's remarks "irresponsible chatter" and "improper," especially since they were made while the minister was in Washington for meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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